Rep. Adam Kinzinger penned a Fox News op-ed Friday defending the late Sen. John McCain as a bipartisan “maverick,” a man who stuck to his convictions in a civil manner and a rare politician who was “first to say he wasn’t always right.”
The Illinois Republican, who counted the longtime Arizona Republican as a friend and mentor, did not explicitly mention the reason McCain’s legacy emerged in the news cycle seven months after his death: President Donald Trump has re-upped his criticism of the longtime lawmaker this week.
Kinzinger’s apparent hesitation to explicitly invoke Trump’s name when defending McCain’s legacy reflects a trend among many GOP lawmakers who have similarly avoided criticizing the president directly over his recent comments.
Kinzinger hasn’t shied away from confronting Trump and criticized some of his past moves.
Watch – Trump: ‘I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be’
When the president proclaimed on Twitter in December that the U.S. had “defeated ISIS in Syria,” Kinzinger quote-tweeted him and wrote, “This is simply not true.”
Kinzinger said he was “speechless” in an interview with CNN shortly after Trump declared victory and said he had ordered the Department of Defense to withdraw troops from Syria.
“To see the president wake up today and say, ‘We’ve defeated them’ … that’s not only going to hamper our current operation, it’s going to double or triple the ranks of ISIS,” Kinzinger said. “Because when we leave, they’re going to say, ‘Look, we just defeated the United States without many casualties.’”
Kinzinger spokeswoman Maura Gillespie said that rather than give in to Trump’s “nonsense,” the congressman wanted to “further pay his respects to a man he respected greatly, and remind people about John McCain: a force to be reckoned with, an American hero, and someone who put the good of the country above all else.”
“The point here is that Senator McCain’s legacy is etched — it cannot be tarnished or erased, so why give legs to any attempts to do that?” Gillespie said. “Rising above the fray and remembering what is important can be more impactful than giving attention to childish attacks.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell fired off a tweet Wednesday calling McCain a “rare patriot” and a “genuine American hero,” but made no mention of Trump’s recent comments.
Some Republicans have broken ranks, though, to sharply condemn the president for his ongoing feud with McCain, who died of brain cancer last year.
GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia told local media earlier this week that Trump’s comments in 2016 that McCain was not a war hero because he was captured in Vietnam were “deplorable.”
Some Democrats have needled their Republican counterparts for declining to confront Trump over his attacks on McCain.
During his Wednesday speech in Lima, Ohio, Trump complained that he never received a thank you for McCain’s funeral in Washington.
“I gave [McCain] the kind of funeral he wanted, which as president I had to approve. And I didn’t get a thank you. But that’s OK,” Trump said, adding that he “never liked” the former U.S. Navy fighter pilot who was tortured as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.
McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain, wrote a fundraising letter for the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University that she chairs arguing that her husband’s legacy is “under attack.”
Earlier in the day, she tweeted out a message she had received from someone who said she was glad Cindy McCain’s husband was dead and that they hope her daughter, “The View” co-host Meghan McCain, “chokes to death.”
“I want to make sure all of you could see how kind and loving a stranger can be,” Cindy McCain wrote, sarcastically.